“Ray Charles could sound suave or raw, brash or hesitant, joyful or desolate, insouciant or tearful, earthy or devout. He projected the primal exuberance of a field holler and the sophistication of a bebopper; he could conjure exaltation, sorrow and determination within a single phrase.” A fine summary of his genius from The New York Times - Brother Ray passed away today in 2004.
Musical legend Ray Charles Robinson died of liver failure at the age of 73. Successfully distilling gospel, blues, soul and jazz styles into music that found favour with both black and white America, Georgia-born Ray establish himself as a true artist of world renown during over half a century of performance and recording.
Losing his sight as a youngster, Charles attended at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where he would learn to read music in Braille and was taught to play both piano and clarinet. Playing with guitar and drums accompaniment as The Maxim Trio from 1947, before working solo under the name R.C. Robinson.
Switching names to Ray Charles, chart success arrived with “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” in 1951, moving on soon after to Atlantic Records, where his laid back lounge singer style with echoes of Nat King Cole soon became something much more potent, evidenced in the up-tempo track “Mess Around” - a 1953 smash.
R&B diamonds such as “It Should’ve Been Me” and “I Got A Woman” and “What’d I Say” led to a more lush sound, incorporating string sections and a 1960 hit with, “Georgia on My Mind”. Meanwhile 1962′s “Modern Sounds in Country and Western” album was an unexpected success, with “I Can’t Stop Loving You” giving him a number one single on both sides of the Atlantic – the only UK chart-topper of his career.
His version of Quincy Jone’s theme to the 1967 movie “In The Heat of The Night” though proved to be something of a high water mark, with more commercial releases subsequently diluting the magic. Having inspired the likes of Paul McCartney a decade before, Ray was now serving up popular but insipid Beatles covers such as “Yesterday and “Eleanor Rigby.”
Continuing to record and play worldwide gigs, the mantle of ‘living legend’ sat easily on the shoulders of Ray and despite a barely-hidden long-term drug addiction, he collected numerous accolades and rubbed shoulders with the great and the good – including a memorable cameo in 1980 movie, “The Blues Brothers”.
Spending time coaching actor Jamie Foxx to play him in the 2004 biopic “Ray” (originally titled “Unchain My Heart” while in production), Charles died shortly before its release, a year after playing his 10,000th live show. A posthumously-released album of collaborations, “Genius Loves Company” would boost his personal Grammy Award total to seventeen, 44 years after his first success. Oh, brother.
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And here’s some footage of Brother Ray in action: